Bullying in schools is as prevalent as it ever was, maybe more so now that society has evolved a greater awareness of the potential long-term harm to the victims. Between 1 in every 3 to 1 in every 4 students say that they’ve been bullied in school, which makes the chances of it happening disturbingly common.
So what can a parent do?
Know If Your Child Is Being Bullied
Bullied children are often so upset or even ashamed by the bullying that they may be unlikely to tell you exactly what is going on, even when you ask directly.
Keeping communication open between you and your child is always a healthy first step. But you may also have to keep an eye out for changes in behavior that could indicate a problem. Children who are bullied may:
- Say “I don’t want to go to school today.”
- Rush home to use the bathroom because they’re too scared to enter the lavatory at school.
- Engage in cutting or other forms of self-mutilation.
- Try to hide, or make excuses for, bruises or cuts from physical attacks.
- Avoid social interaction by staying at home after school and in the evenings.
- Complain of headaches, stomachaches, etc.
Bullying Comes In Many Forms
The classic image of bullying is a picture of a smaller child being pushed around by a scrum of bigger kids. But bullying can take many forms, some of them subtle and difficult to prove. It can include name-calling, spreading rumors, exclusion from social groups, or cyber-bullying. How you help your child deal with the bullying depends in part on the nature of it.
Physical attacks should be addressed immediately by alerting the teacher, the school, and the relevant authorities. Physical assault is a crime.
Cyber-bullying has become more and more prevalent. One hurtful remark may not indicate a problem, but frequent and intentional attacks are red flags. In these cases:
- Encourage your child not to react to hurtful comments or retaliate online.
- Take screen shots of the behavior to preserve a record.
- Block the bully on social media.
- Address the parents of the child, if known.
- If the bully is in school with the child, alert the teacher in case the harassment also occurs off-line.
- Encourage your child to take a break from social media.
Whispers of rumors, exclusion from groups, and cruelly casual teasing can be the hardest sort of bullying to address. It’s a complex problem with no easy answers. Some techniques that can help include:
- Build your child’s confidence by encouraging positive friendships outside school.
- Keep open the lines of communication so your child feels loved, not isolated.
- Role-play bullying situations to brainstorm effective responses, such as disarming a bully with humor, learning to brush off the remarks, and strengthening your child’s sense of self-worth.
- If bullying persists, address the situation with the teacher, principal, and the parents of the major offenders.
Perhaps the best but hardest way to reduce bullying is to encourage your child to recognize harassment when it is happening to others. When kids stand together peacefully against unacceptable behavior, bullies just may be forced to change.